Oct 302013

The basic intention of this book is laid out in its headnote, but reaching those headwaters from which all else flowed itself required a journey. I had spent much time in meditation of my approach, which was to find clear touchstones of the “American character” in fact and myth, folktale and dream. We have no long-winded epic, no vast leaves spilling from a forest of folklore; our gods are Greek, and cribbed lessons from the Bible, some Appalachian ballads that owe more to the Scottish Highlands than the American Heartland, and certain Roman stoics who were the fad among our founders. Somewhere in the middle of the ninetieth century, our literary desire to find heroes and define our inchoate longings turned decidedly humorist. No Dante would spring fully-formed from the misadventures of Pecos Bill, the silly hillbilly feuds of the Hatfields and McCoys. I had to sit and think awhile, and so I went to where the wind and water form and everlasting mist along the Jersey Shore. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, I had seen the landscape of my childhood transformed by the indifferent violence of nature; many of these shore communities will never reconstitute themselves again, and their local tales have been washed away, their common history scattered to the tearing wind. I knew that other forces were tearing at the fabric of our common memory, and that a similar devastation may already have worked its will. No epic would do, nothing comprehensive could be found for our diversely voiced nation and its multiplicity of circumstance. I recalled W.B Yeats’ maxim “You can refute Heigl, but not the Song of Six Pence,” and toyed with the idea of writing a volume of nursery rhymes, as I had done when I was sixteen. I put this notion aside, but allowed my dreaming eyes to rest on a similar prospect; I had wanted to write something “irrefutable” in terms such as Yeats had suggested, something “beyond cold right or wrong,” and such bedrock can be found only in universal dream and man’s endless desires.

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